July 23, 2012
First published by Mobilizing Ideas
The 10-year anniversary for the movement that sprung up against the war in Iraq is on the horizon, and it presents an opportune time to reflect on its progress, and more importantly, the lessons that can be learned from its shortcomings.
While activists were busy organizing in the fall of 2002, the dramatic debut of the movement’s true size and global dimensions took place on February 15, 2003. On that historic date, millions took to the streets around the world in the largest antiwar protest in history. Two days later, Patrick Tyler wrote in The New York Times that there were now perhaps “two superpowers on the planet—the United States, and worldwide public opinion.”
This was no doubt an impressive show of force, but it ultimately did not faze President Bush, who quipped that letting the protests influence his decision to invade Iraq would be like saying “I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group.” This brazen retort from the president wasn’t mere posturing. A little more than a month later, bombs started raining down on Baghdad once again.
July 14, 2012
Over the last year and a half, an historic wave of uprisings and revolutions has engulfed much of the world and done more to legitimize the power of nonviolence than anything since the fall of the Soviet Union. Just as Tunisians kicked off this global nonviolent upheaval, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan were putting the finishing touches on their recent book Why Civil Resistance Works, which is a must read for anyone interested in the dynamics behind these movements’ successes and failures.
Rather than relying solely on case studies and anecdotal evidence to make a case for the power and potential of nonviolent action, they systematically cataloged as many violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns since 1900 as they could — compiling a data-set of 323 cases in total — in an attempt to reach a greater understanding of the comparative effectiveness among these different methods of struggle. After painstakingly collecting all of this information and crunching the numbers, they discovered — to even their own surprise — that nonviolent campaigns were nearly twice as effective as armed campaigns over the past century.
Not only are Chenoweth and Stephan’s findings supported by extensive data, which are included in their book and a free online appendix, but the authors provide deeply nuanced analysis of why nonviolent struggle has proven to be so much more effective than violence. I recently caught up with Erica Chenoweth, who is an assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, to get her thoughts on the nonviolent movements that have exploded since her book was published. In an email interview, she discussed some common mistakes made by activists, the ever-worsening crisis in Syria and tips that the Occupy movement might glean from the findings in her book.
August 4, 2011
“Islam” Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today
When the mass nonviolent movements that brought down longtime U.S.-backed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt this year captured the world’s attention, The Progressive’s managing editor Amitabh Pal joked that it made his new book, “Islam” Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today, both “more topical and dated at the same time.”
While many books will no doubt be written about the momentous events that are unfolding in the Middle East, many of them will doubtless leave out the prehistory. By exploring the rich tradition of nonviolent resistance in the Muslim world—from Palestine and Pakistan, to Kosovo and the Maldives—Pal dispels the oft-repeated misconception that what we are witnessing in the Arab Spring is without precedent. He recently spoke with Religion Dispatches about why Islam has been so maligned in the West, what makes the religion compatible with nonviolence, and the important role that women are playing in the ongoing struggles for democracy and social justice in the Middle East.
What first made you want to write a book about nonviolence and Islam—as neither a Muslim yourself nor a scholar of the religion?
I didn’t initially approach the subject as that of Islam but as nonviolence. When the events of September 11 happened and the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, I remembered as a young man hearing about an associate of Gandhi named Ghaffar Khan. So I thought I’d write about him. Through a series of contacts I was able to actually speak to his family in Peshawar, where they control a political party. They are not exactly living up to his ideals—they claim to, but it’s dubious. His grandson was happy to speak with me. I wrote an article about him, and that is how I got interested in Islam and nonviolence.
I was on RT, Russia’s 24/7 English-language news channel, today to talk about the news that the US has stepped up its covert war in Yemen in recent weeks with increased strikes by fighter jets and armed drones. Click here to watch the video.
March 25, 2011
Waging Nonviolence, Common Dreams, The Indypendent
One of the arguments that is being forwarded by proponents of military intervention in Libya is that Qaddafi is literally crazy and therefore cannot be reasoned with or expected to step down without force.
In an article for Tikkun, entitled “Libya: Acid Test for Nonviolence?,” Metta Center for Nonviolence president Michael Nagler, who I deeply respect and have personally learned a great deal from, makes an argument for war along these lines:
We in the nonviolence field will recognize this as a “madman with a sword” analogy. Gandhi said flatly that if a madman is raging through a village with a sword (read: assault rifle — or Glock Automatic) he who “dispatches the lunatic” will have done the community (and even the poor lunatic) a favor. Here are Gandhi’s exact words, from The Hindu, 1926:
Taking life may be a duty…. Suppose a man runs amok and goes furiously about, sword in hand, and killing anyone that comes in his way, and no one dares capture him alive. Anyone who dispatches this lunatic will earn the gratitude of the community and be regarded as a benevolent man.
March 17, 2011
Waging Nonviolence, Sojourners
After a month of largely peaceful pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, the situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse this week. On Monday, 2,000 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and other allies in the region entered Bahrain at the request of King Hamad al-Khalifa. The king then announced a three-month state of emergency and yesterday his security forces moved on Pearl Roundabout, where the protesters have been encamped since the movement began on February 14. At least 6 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured. The violent crackdown has continued today, with the arrest of six leading opposition figures.
The pro-democracy movement in Bahrain faces challenges that those in Egypt and Tunisia did not. The Sunni-controlled Bahraini government systematically discriminates against Shiites, who make up more than 70 percent of the country’s population. And as last week’s very insightful episode of Al Jazeera’s People & Power (above) explains, virtually no Shiites are not allowed in the police or army, and the “king brings Sunni immigrants from abroad to police the streets, giving them citizenship and housing.”
This makes dividing the loyalty of the security apparatus – which is often a key to the success of any nonviolent movement – in Bahrain far more difficult than it was in Egypt. While they are all Muslim, because of the sectarian split, Bahrainis will have a harder time appealing to the army and police on religious grounds.
March 2011 issue
This 9-year-old Afghan girl lost her left arm in a U.S. bombing. She now lives in a displaced persons camp outside Kabul.
In December, as the United States entered the 10th year of what President Obama called the “good war” in Afghanistan, I traveled to Kabul to take stock of the human toll of the increasingly bloody occupation.
From the moment I landed in Kabul’s airport, I noticed its distinctive smell — a unique mix of dust, smog, and burning wood. The poor air quality, I learned, is a direct result of the wars. In an attempt to quantify the damage done by air pollution, Afghan authorities recently announced that 3,000 people die every year in Kabul due to the poor air quality, making it a more effective killer of Afghans than the Taliban. War not only destroys people, but it poisons the earth itself, which leads to more deaths.
In Kabul, it’s clear that money was secured from somewhere to surround buildings on nearly every street with enormous concrete blast walls, sandbags, razor wire, and men with AK-47s — turning the city into a massive open-air prison. Someone decided that razor wire was a greater priority than paving roads, providing clean drinking water, or building a much-needed sewage system for the city. Ten years into the so-called “reconstruction” and even at a hotel that caters to internationals, electricity was spotty — going out multiple times a day, sometimes for hours at a time.